Before his expulsion from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Alec Cook used his student status in a "scheme" to get access to and “criminally and violently exploit” female students, prosecutors argued in a brief filed Tuesday in Dane County Circuit Court.
That is why charges involving his 11 accusers must be tried together, wrote Assistant Attorney General Christopher Liegel and Dane County Assistant District Attorney Bryce Pierson.
Cook planned to put “women in fear and reveled in their discomfort. He ignored their pleas to leave them alone,” prosecutors wrote. “He physically prevented them from getting away. He followed them. He forced sex upon them and physically struck and choked them.”
Evidence of Cook’s plan are in notebooks where he wrote about a compulsion to pick up women and “become world’s best at pick-up,” prosecutors said.
They were responding to a defense motion arguing that the 23 charges brought against Cook involving 11 accusers must be adjudicated in 11 separate trials. Defense attorneys had argued in a June 30 filing with Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke that charges involving different women were not related in the way state law requires to try them together.
Trying them together would result in “astounding prejudice” against their client, defense attorneys Christopher Van Wagner and Jessa Nicholson Goetz wrote. It would unfairly allow prosecutors to use “the number and nature of the allegations to paint the defendant as the bogeyman."
Only by trying the charges together will jurors get the information they need to understand the individual charges, prosecutors argued in response.
“They will see that this case is intertwined with the setting and culture of the University of Wisconsin campus. It is not a crime that could have happened anywhere to anyone. It was crimes that could only have happened to UW students perpetrated by another UW student,” they wrote.
Cook, 22, is charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanor disorderly conduct to felony sexual assault in incidents that occurred between September 2014 and October 2016. His expulsion from the university became final in June.
To try the charges separately would waste judicial resources and prevent the jury from understanding the intent and motive behind Cook’s crimes, prosecutors said.
The cases are similar enough to meet the standards under the law to try them together, they argued. All of Cook’s accusers are women near him in age; all but one was — like Cook at the time — a full-time undergraduate student at UW-Madison; all were strangers or involved in brief relationships with Cook; and all the incidents took place on or near the UW-Madison campus, prosecutors pointed out.
They also argued that Cook shows similar methods of operation in each of the incidents by confining, holding or trapping his victims. Cook is accused of pinning one woman to a bed, blocking another’s exit from a room, grabbing a third by the hips, and digitally penetrating another who said she tried but was not physically strong enough to pull his hand away from her body.
Cook also communicated with several accusers after the encounters in which he is charged, telling one he wanted to see her again, texting another about the “beautiful experience,” and inviting a third to his birthday party.
These communications were part of Cook’s criminal plan, prosecutors argued. “It allowed him to construct a false narrative of his interactions with his victims,” they wrote, sanitizing and repackaging them as friendly or romantic. “It also served to cause his victims to pause and question their own perception of what occurred.”
Evidence of Cook's plans are contained in his journals, where he hints at his intentions toward women, prosecutors argue.
“Getting with women I want Has Become a MUST. Or else I’ll end up Killing myself,” they quote from an undated entry in a spiral notebook.
“You’re good enough looking to get away with not giving a shit,” Cook wrote in an entry dated Sept. 3, 2015.
Those notebook entries are evidence of Cook’s plan to make women uncomfortable and fearful, and terrify them so “they could not feel safe on campus.”
The incidents involving different women are linked by Cook’s “abnormal desire to aggressively pursue nonconsensual interactions with his female peers,” prosecutors wrote. Interactions ranging from graphic conversation to physical violence and forced sexual relations were all part of an “overarching plan as shown in his notebooks and more specifically in the striking similarity in his actions.”
To try the cases involving different women separately would mislead and confuse jurors and remove the context needed to weigh victims’ testimony, prosecutors wrote.
“Mr. Cook’s plan and scheme would be removed from the case and the jury would be left wondering and guessing to fill the gaps: Maybe he is just awkward. Maybe she just misread his bad attempt at flirting, or any number of guesses. For the jury to decide whether Alec Cook's behavior toward the 11 victims was criminal, they have to hear a complete story of Alec Cook’s time at UW-Madison.”